Maine schoolhouse one of a kind

There are more than 3,000 islands off the coast of Maine, and many great stories originate on them. The islands are rich in history and culture, and many island families can trace their roots back many generations. This story, written in 1990, was about the only schoolhouse on Isle au Haut, and the fact that enrollment had dwindled over the years to just a single student.


ISLE AU HAUT, Maine (UPI) — The green-and-white schoolhouse on this rugged offshore island functioned this year as it has for a century, but with one major difference: For most of the year, the morning bell summoned only a single student to class.

Every morning, Meredith Mattingly , 10, the son of a U.S. Parks Service ranger, walked down to the shore just outside the only village on the island to take his seat in the 100-year-old school’s only classroom. The fifth-grader had the undivided attention of his teacher, Tanice Jason.

“I believe in individualized instruction, and that happens naturally in a one-room schoolhouse,” she said.

isle au haut school picThe old wooden schoolhouse has the smallest enrollment of any school in the state. And although most of Isle au Haut’s 30 year-round residents scratch out meager incomes from the sea, the school easily has the highest per-pupil cost in the state at $44,000.

The school can offer instruction to children from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Normally, it serves between five and 10 students, and has served as may as 30. But the populations of both the school and the island have dwindled with the decline of fishing stocks off the Maine coast.

In spite of the decreasing numbers, however, the island residents have almost unanimously supported the local schoolhouse, knowing that closing the school would force even more families to leave Isle au Haut and move to the mainland.

At the end of winter, Meredith was joined by another student, fourth grader Jason Barter, who returned from the mainland with his father, a lobsterman.

Judith Lucarelli, the superintendent of schools in the district that includes Isle au Haut, said she favored keeping the island school operating, even though it is expensive.

Lucarelli said the quality of education at the old school is excellent — not simply because of the individualized instruction, but also because the school is equipped with everything from a MacIntosh computer to a well-stocked library.

Jason said this year will be her last at the Isle au Haut school, even though she enjoys the time she has spent with her handful of students.

Lucarelli said she has already decided on Jason’s replacement, who will also help ease Isle au Haut’s enrollment problems; the new teacher has two children of her own, and they will attend the school next year.

(NOTE: I checked, and the Isle au Haut school is still operating. This year (2015), it has four students, two in the fifth grade and two more in the sixth.) 


The man who married Norma Jean

I never thought that a move to Maine from Boston would lead to me writing about Marilyn Monroe. But in 1990, not long before I left my second tour with UPI, I heard that Marilyn Monroe’s first husband was living in Sabattus, not far from Lewiston. I found him, got in touch, and he was very friendly and willing to talk. Here is the story that resulted.


SABATTUS, Maine (UPI) – Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller may remember Marilyn Monroe, but James Dougherty thinks back to a schoolgirl named Norma Jean, who ended their marriage to become an actress, sex symbol and national obsession.

In 1943, the woman who was to become the nation’s favorite blonde bombshell was still Norma Jean Mortensen. She married Dougherty – her first husband – in their home town of Van Nuys, Calif.

He was 21. She had just turned 16.

“I never knew Marilyn Monroe and I don’t claim to have any insights about her to this day,” Dougherty said. “I knew and loved Norma Jean.”

A former Los Angeles police officer, Dougherty, 68, retired to Maine 11 years ago. He is married to his third wife, Rita, a Maine native.

His relationship with Norma Jean began casually. She attended Van Nuys High School and he sometimes walked her home after class.

“I had graduated from high school and I was working at Lockheed,” he said. “The war hadn’t started yet. Norma Jean was going to high school and I was taking her home, but I was going with a girl up at Santa Barbara High School, going up there on weekends.”

Norma Jean was 15 at the time, living with a foster family in Van Nuys because her mother had been committed to a mental institution. Her foster mother was a good friend of Dougherty’s mother. The two mothers began talking about a marriage between Dougherty and Norma Jean when the foster family began thinking about moving to another state.


Jim Dougherty and Norma Jean Mortensen on their wedding day

“They wanted to move back to Virginia, and they couldn’t take Norma Jean,” Dougherty said. “She would have gone back to an orphanage or another foster home, so her foster mother suggested I marry her.”

“I thought she was awful young, but I took her to a dance. She was a pretty mature girl, and physically she was mature, of course. We talked and we got on pretty good.”

Dougherty continued to see Norma Jean for the next year, giving up on the girl in Santa Barbara. A year later, the two were married.

The young couple lived in a Sherman Oaks apartment for a while and then moved back to Van Nuys, . I World War II, Dougherty joined the Merchant Marine and was assigned to teach sea safety on Catalina Island, off the California coast.

“She (Norma Jean) was just a housewife,” Dougherty said. “We would go down to the beach on weekends, and have luaus on Saturday night. She loved it over there. It was like being on a honeymoon for a year.”

Then Dougherty was sent overseas. Norma Jean got a job and moved in with Dougherty’s mother in Van Nuys.

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Nick Apollonio’s guitars

I don’t remember writing this story in 1974. I don’t remember meeting Nick Apollonio, and I don’t know if I went down to Camden to interview him or if I simply talked to him on the telephone.  But I did look him up via Google and it seems that he’s still in the Camden area and still making guitars that musicians value very highly. He was 27 when I wrote this story, and that would make him 67 now – my age. As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, Maine was an absolute treasure trove of interesting people doing great things. Kind of a writer’s paradise.

Camden man is specialist in guitars

CAMDEN, Maine (UPI) – The guitars that Nick Apollonio makes are fashioned out of redwood or cedar on the second floor of a barn that overlooks the rocky coast.

The six and 12-string instruments have been coming out of Apollonio’s shop, one at a time, since 1968. He says they are about the best that can be found anywhere.

“I specialize in 12-strings, because I found I could make a good tone,” he said. But Apollonio also makes six-string guitars, dulcimers, and he recently completed his first fiddle.

“I did a fiddle last February, and that was great,” he said. “I used a redwood top with a walnut body, and it sounds excellent.” Violins are usually made out of maple, with spruce tops.

Apollonio is 27, and the guitar shop, which he calls The Works, got underway in 1968, right after he got out of college.

“I got into it slowly,” he said. “When I was a teenager, I learned to play the electric guitar and later on developed an interest in folk music, to the point where I wanted my own guitar.

“A friend of mine, Gordon Bok, had two excellent guitars, one of which he had made, and he convinced me that I should try to make one,” he said. “It was so simple that I thought it was worth a try.”

The first two or three guitars came out sounding pretty good.

“Somebody gave me an order, and a little later on I just went ahead and opened the shop. I sold about 12 instruments that first summer,” he said.

One of Apollonio’s instruments was made for Paul Stookey, formerly with the Peter Paul and Mary group.

The guitars can be made to produce different tones and the finish can be simple or elaborate. The instruments cost anywhere from $100 to $700.

“The difference is tone, playability and the detail that goes into it,” he said.

Most of the orders have resulted from word of mouth and most come from the New England area, although Apollonio has received orders from as far away as California and Louisiana.

Apollonio says he wants to get into making stringed instruments which are played in the Balkans.

“The Ukranians and the Greeks use all kinds of little stringed instruments for their dances, and I’m curious about them,” he said.



Animal stories/Rockport Harbor II

While Andre the Seal held the title of most-written-about animal in Rockport Harbor, there were other animal stories that occasionally originated in that seacoast town. This story was about a baby sperm whale that floated into the harbor, and the efforts to keep it alive. I don’t recall the outcome of this story, whether the baby whale lived or died.


ROCKPORT, Maine (UPI) – They built a sling out of beams and fish nets, and gently eased the newborn sperm whale over it in the shallow water near the shore at Rockport Harbor.

Straps that usually hoist boats from the water were drawn up and the baby whale, weak from hunger and close to death, was moved onto a dock and into the back of a large red and white van for the ride down the turnpike to Boston.

The little whale had floated into the harbor early Monday. At first it swam in lazy circles. Then it floated up and rested on the sand near shore.

People waded out and tried to push the whale back into deep water, but it kept turning about and moving back near the shore. Hundreds of people lined the beach and watched the whale as it lay in the shallow water.

Biology students from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor came to Rockport and helped experts from the New England Aquarium in Boston check over the whale. At first it was thought eh animal was about a year old, but Dr. Joseph Geraci, a veterinarian at the New England Aquarium, and aquarium director John Prescott said the whale was a baby which had been separated from or rejected by its mother,,

They said the baby whale hadn’t been fed in some time. They said it was dehydrated and had lost as much as a third of its weight, which at birth is about 3,000 pounds.

A private plane was sent aloft to search the coast for the mother. If she had been found, the baby would have been towed out to meet her. But she wasn’t found, and Prescott and Dr. Geraci began making plans to move the whale to the New York Aquarium.

The examination early Tuesday, however, indicated the whale wouldn’t survive the trip. It was decided to take it to the aquarium in Boston.

Harry Goodridge, the local harbormaster, had been with the whale since it first came into the harbor.

“They gave him massive doses of antibiotics,” Goodridge said. “There is a lot of interest in him because he’s the first live sperm whale anyone’s ever had.”

Louis Garibaldi, the New England Aquarium’s curator, cautioned that chances of saving the little whale were slim.

“The animal is in very poor condition,” he said. “It is a recent newborn, it’s very thin and it’s had little nutrition.”

“The prognosis is poor, and it appears the whale may die no matter what we do.”

Animal stories: Andre the Seal

There are some stories that get written once a year, over and over again. In Maine, the king of all once-a-year stories was Andre the Seal. Maine reporters cringed every year when Andre, a harbor seal that had been abandoned as a baby by his mother, would return to Rockport Harbor. I must have written this story at least a half-dozen times. This was the 1976 version.

Andre returns to Maine 


ROCKPORT, Maine (UPI) – When the sky lightened over a foggy Rockport Harbor Monday, Andre was there.

Andre, a fat 16-year-old harbor seal, had spent most of the past two weeks lounging in a series of rowboats from Port Clyde to Cape Rosier. His trainer, Harry Goodridge, Rockport’s harbormaster, was beginning to think that Andre had decided to stay free.

ImageGoodridge found Andre when he was a small pup, not long after the seal had been abandoned by his mother. Goodridge kept the little seal in his bathtub for a while, and later built him a pen in the harbor.

Andre learned tricks, and the seal and his trainer have been entertaining visitors to Rockport since the early 1960s.

In the winter, Andre would swim south, and spent some time in the harbor in Marblehead, Mass. But the past three years Goodridge has taken Andrew to the New England Aquarium in Boston for the winter.

In the spring, Andre has been taken to Marblehead and set free. A few days later, he shows up in Rockport.

Andre usually makes the swim in three or four days. But this year was different.

Andre visited some people along the coast and played games with boaters before arriving in Port Clyde, a few miles south of Rockport. He climbed into a rowboat, moored 200 feet offshore, and went to sleep.

Andre stayed in the boat for two days, sleeping and sunning himself. A local resident said the seal would occasionally scoop up a flipperful of water from the bottom of the boat and lazily splash himself. His next visit was at Deer Isle, about 20 miles east of Rockport. He spent some time in a rowboat there, and then was spotted in a boat in Cape Rozier.

But two boys were at Goodridge’s house early Monday.

“They told me he was back,” Goodridge said. “I went down to the harbor and and he was there heckling a lobsterman.”

“When he saw me, he jumped riight into  his cage.”

Goodridge said Andre looked good, and said he had lost some of the weight he had gained over the winter at the aquarium.

“He was just enjoying his vacation, I guess,” Goodridge said. “I began to get a little worried when he didn’t come home, but I kept thinking that he was free for years, and that he always came back.”

When Andre spent his winters free, he would sometimes take off for extended periods.

“He was gone for more than three months once,” Goodridge said. “Probably went to the North Pole.”

While Goodridge and his wife worry about Andre when he’s gone, they both have hoped that the seal would one day leave Rockport Harbor and learn to live on his own.

“We’ve always hoped he would go wild,” Mrs. Goodridge said. “We hate to keep him cooped up all year.”

“But if he comes back, There’s a place for him, and plenty of fish.”



Covering the news media

Writing about the news media was one of my beats when I worked for a business newspaper in Tampa. It was fun and an interesting coverage area, but even in the mid-1990s the print business was in decline. That made for some uncomfortable stories, and also for some uncomfortable news business executives. They didn’t like it when reporters would write negative stories about them. I could always count on a ringing telephone the day after writing a story about a newspaper that was less than glowing. This story was about the Tampa TRIBUNE, a newspaper that has been in second place to the St. Petersburg TIMES (now the Tampa Bay TIMES) over on the other side of Tampa Bay. The Tribune is still hanging on, but its future is cloudy.

Arthur Frederick
Staff Writer

A team of Pennsylvania-based consultants has been hired to study the nooks and crannies of the Tampa Tribune, and is searching out ways to cut costs and boost efficiency.

Publisher Jack Butcher said the move was simply a matter of the newspaper business trying to catch up with other industries.

“The word that comes to mind is `archaic.’ Every other industry did this eight or 10 years ago,” Butcher said. “We are trying to make our company more productive and more customer-friendly — what just about any company in America has to do to survive.”

But to some Tribune news staffers, the study is little more than a cover for the further elimination of jobs which has been rumored at the paper for some time.

Tribune managers won’t discount the possibility of layoffs. But they say the study is really aimed at finding more efficient processes which will improve news reporting, and make the paper stronger and more competitive.

“This is an ongoing process that probably will take at least six or seven more months,” said Michael Kilgore, the Tribune’s promotion director and chief spokesman. “We aren’t looking at money to be saved or people to be employed. We’re looking at processes. We’ve told our employees that in some departments we might need fewer people, and in others we might need more.”

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News coverage: writing about the environment

Since I spent so much time working as a journalist in Maine, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that writing about the environment was an almost-daily assignment. A lot of Maine people consider themselves to be environmentalists, and newspaper editors knew that and loved to get environmental stories from the wire services. Back in the 70s, power generating projects tended to be huge. In Maine, there were two big proposed power generating projects — the Passamaquoddy project, which was to generate power from ebbing and flowing tides; and the Dickey-Lincoln Hydroelectric project, two dams that would have flooded thousands of acres of forest land in northern Maine. I wrote scores of stories about both, mostly Dickey-Lincoln. Neither project was ever built.


AUGUSTA, Maine (UPI) – The head of the Maine Natural Resources Council told the legislative Committee on Energy Wednesday that the proposed Dickey Lincoln Hydroelectric Project could result in more than 30,000 acres of exposed mudflats during several weeks of the year.

Clifford Goodall said the hydroelectric project is flawed because the area would not have enough water to operate efficiently.

The Dickey Lincoln dam would create a long, slender lake instead of a lake concentrated in one area, and dropping the level of the lake to make room for spring runoff waters would result in 33,600 acres of exposed mudflats.

“Hydroelectric projects require water, and there just isn’t that much water up there,” Goodall said. “Passamaquoddy has the water. Dickey Lincoln has practically none.”

“If you’re going to dam up all this water in the spring, you have about a 10-month span in which you are going to let it out,” he said.

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Newspaper writing: People stories

One of the first things you learn at any newspaper is that stories need to be about people. You can write about places and things all day long, but the best stories describe how places and things affect people. Or a person. One thing I like about living in Florida is that it is filled with old people. And old people have lifetimes of experiences that make for good stories.



CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bill Wynne finally got his medals Thursday, 48 years after a Japanese rifleman shot him in the knee during a battle in the Philippines.

If Wynne hadn’t been so determined to get a special Florida license plate for wounded vets, he might never have gotten his decorations at all.

Wynne, 70, who lives at the On Top of the World development in Clearwater, spent part of Veterans Day at a ceremony at American Legion Post 7, collecting the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, two of the awards and decorations he should have received after World War II, but never did.

To hear him tell it, the bullet wound to the knee was no big deal.

“I always felt I was lucky he hit me in the knee instead of the head,” Wynne said.

The Army’s failure to deliver his medals was no big deal, either, he said. He spent some time in the hospital, finished the war as a truck driver instead of a machine gunner, then got on with his life in Pennsylvania after the war was over.

When Wynne asked about his medals after the war, he was told there was no record of his being wounded or decorated. That seemed a little strange, he said, because the government kept sending him monthly disability checks. But after a while he stopped trying to get his medals.

“I just gave up on it,” Wynne said.

And that’s the way things would have remained, except for the special “combat wounded veteran” license plate that Wynne wanted so badly for his Mercury Sable.

When Pennsylvania came out with a special commemorative license plate for wounded veterans, Wynne, who was then a Pennsylvania resident, applied. Pennsylvania officials were happy to issue him the special plate, he said, and they accepted his VA disability papers as proof of his combat wound.

But things were different when Wynne moved to Florida three years ago. Florida refused to issue him the special plate unless he could produce his Purple Heart or some other evidence of having been wounded in combat.

Wynne decided to go after his medals again, but he got nowhere until he contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

“They got a reply within 48 hours that my records had been located,” Wynne said.

The official presentation was held at the American Legion post, but the decorations actually came to Wynne’s home a week ago, packed in a big box.

“My wife got excited about them,” he said. “When I got home that night I was just glad to see the Purple Heart was in there.”

Besides the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, the box contained a Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with star, Philippine Liberation Ribbon and a number of other awards.

It was easy to see there was more involved than a license plate.

“I opened the box, and then I opened all the little boxes inside, and I read all the authorizations that were with the medals, and it took me back all those years,” Wynne said. “I felt very emotional about it. It brought home to me that they were really mine.”


Writing for the business pages

It was never my intention to become a business writer, but that is what happened on more than one occasion. I spent a couple of years writing business stories for the Tampa Bay Business Journal, and I wrote about business frequently for United Press International. Also, I’ve done quite a bit of business writing for my public relations clients. This particular story was written for the St. Petersburg TIMES.



 LARGO, Fla. — The parking lot surrounding the sprawling Hercules Defense Electronic Systems building tells the story. Built to accommodate 1,400 employee vehicles, it had fewer than 200 on a recent workday morning.

In the mid-1980s, Hercules enjoyed solid profits by selling smart weapons, missile warning and electronic warfare systems and other sophisticated electronics to the military. It employed more than 1,200 people. But the end of the Cold War has brought smaller defense appropriations from Congress. Contractors like Hercules are chasing fewer orders from the Pentagon.

A few weeks ago, parent company Hercules Inc., a Delaware-based chemical maker, announced plans to sell the subsidiary to Alliant Techsystems of Hopkins, Minn., a sale that is expected to be completed early this year.

The future of the subsidiary is unclear. But the company’s success will depend on its ability to adapt to smaller defense budgets and tough international competition.

Hercules Defense Electronic Systems came to Pinellas County in 1957, about the same time as three other large defense contractors – Honeywell, Electronic Communications Inc. and General Electric. It was known as Sperry Microwave and Support Systems Division until 1986, when it was acquired from Unisys Corp. by Hercules Inc., which wanted to expand into military electronics.

At the time of the sale, managers seemed cautiously optimistic about the defense industry’s future.

“Electronics is one of the few defense sector areas that has been identified for growth for the rest of this decade,” Hercules vice president and general manager James J. Thompson said just a few months after the 1986 acquisition, at a time when Hercules still employed nearly 1,000 workers.

Hercules’ work force has dwindled steadily since then. Just before Christmas, the number was 215. Hercules workers who remain are wondering if the purchase will mean another round of layoffs.

Management is saying little, but a company spokesperson, Berna Anspaugh, acknowledged that a review of current staffing levels is connected to the upcoming sale.

“It is not coincidental that (the staffing review) coincides with takeover time,” Anspaugh said.

The transaction demonstrates how defense contractors here and around the country are scrambling to merge, downsize, reposition and find new markets.

“This is the strategic acquisition we have been seeking as the industry consolidates,” Toby G. Carson, Alliant’s president and chief executive officer, said when the sale was announced in late October.

Not everyone is so optimistic. Defense has become something of a dirty word among economic planners and the growing legions of laid-off workers who can’t find work.

It wasn’t too many years ago that William Castoro, executive director of the Pinellas County Industry Council, would have done nearly anything to attract a company like Hercules. For years, defense contractors and their fat payrolls, well-paid engineers and subcontract suppliers were a key component of the Pinellas economy.

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A story about my old friend Don

Don was a friend of mine, from the early days of my newspaper career. I lost track of him for many years, but then discovered that he had died and was buried at the veterans’ cemetery at Bay Pines, not far from my home. I went there on a recent Memorial Day, found his grave and spent a few minutes with him. I wrote this story and took a few pictures, then posted them on a blog to illustrate the sacrifices that our veterans make.


On Memorial Day, I visited my old friend, Don.

I had searched for Don on the Internet a number of times, but I never could find him. The last I heard, he was working as a reporter for the Bradenton Herald, but that was back in the 1970s – so long ago that no one at the newspaper had any memory of him. It was like he had sort of evaporated.

Then one day I tried something different on Google. Instead of searching for “Donald McSheffrey,” I tried a search for “McSheffrey, Donald.” And there he was – buried in Plot 55 45-10 at Bay Pines National Cemetery, right here in Pinellas County.

mcsheffrey headstone pic

Don McSheffrey’s headstone

* * *

On Jan. 6, 1968, I started my first newspaper reporting job at the Holyoke (Mass.) Transcript-Telegram. After getting the tour of the building and meeting the other staff members, I was handed over to Don; he was the Transcript’s police reporter, and I was going to be handling his beat on his days off.

Soon we were walking through the cold January air to the Holyoke police station, where Don introduced me around. He showed me the booking sheet, introduced me to the right people, and explained how to get information from the cops without getting in their way.

I was 21; I never really knew how old Don was. His perennially red eyes and the broken blood vessels in his cheeks made it hard to tell. To me, he was a veteran newsman who knew his way around. To him, I was young and teachable. In spite of the difference in our ages, we became buddies.We drank too much and had a hell of a time.

One day, sparks from a passing freight train set off a grass fire in town, and Don and I went to cover it. The fire had spread up a steep embankment and we couldn’t see whether it was endangering the houses that lined the road above us. We decided to climb the embankment and have a look.

The climb nearly killed us. By the time we got to the top we were so out of breath we couldn’t even speak, so we collapsed in the tall grass, gasping for air. Almost immediately, water started pouring on us, and I picked my head up to see where it was coming from. A woman had come out of her back door and was soaking the tall grass – and us — with a garden hose, and we were too breathless to yell at her to stop. So we just lay in the grass, wet, gasping and laughing our butts off.

*  *  *

As well as I got to know Don, he wouldn’t tell me much about himself. I knew that he had two little girls, and I knew that his wife was dead. Other than that, he said little – he wouldn’t even tell me where he lived.

It wasn’t long before I heard the story from some of our co-workers, but I knew Don for several months before he told me about it himself. We were sitting in a bar one night, half-drunk, when he said, “It’s time I told you about it.”

Don and his wife had befriended a man who worked as a writer for a national news magazine. Don said he looked up to the guy, who was very successful and talented. Don and this man drank a lot of beer together. I knew from my own experience that if you knew Don, you were going to be drinking a lot of beer.

One day the man stopped by the McSheffrey apartment when Don wasn’t home. Don’s wife invited him inside and offered him a glass of iced tea. They went into the kitchen, and Mrs. McSheffrey turned toward the refrigerator. When she did, the man grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and stabbed her repeatedly. She fell to the floor and died.

Don came home that night and found her. The two babies were still in their cribs, unhurt. The police found the man sitting on a doorstep a block away, where he had been sitting since the murder. He told them that he had always wanted to stab a woman to death, but that he had always managed to fend off the urge and figured it would never actually happen.

*  *  *

About a year after I joined the Transcript, Don decided to quit and move to Florida. He got a job at the Bradenton Herald, and he said he was pleased that there was a bar just a few steps from the newspaper’s front door. He had already met the owner/bartender, who he said was a nice guy.

We promised to stay in touch, but we didn’t.

*  *  *

There isn’t much to learn from Don’s gravestone at Bay Pines. He was born in 1934, which solved a small mystery – he was 34 when I met him. He died in 1990, which would have made him 56 years old. I wonder if the alcohol got him, but I guess I’ll never know. I wonder if his daughters live close enough to visit his grave.

The gravestone also noted that he served in the Air Force, and was an Airman 2nd Class. I remember that he talked about that a little. I think he served in Korea as an airplane mechanic, and I seem to remember that he said he liked the military.

Standing by Don’s grave on Memorial Day, small American flags flutter next to each grave stone for as far as you can see.

Besides Don’s, there are 23,952 of them at Bay Pines. Each one of those stones represents a person who lived and breathed and served in the U.S. military. And there is a story to tell about each one of them.